Tag Archives: Isaiah

Excitement!

Mark begins his gospel (Mark 1:1-8) with an excitement, which I hope has not worn off. To him religion and the message he has to deliver is not only important, and therefore serious, but also exciting and good. Losing that sense of excitement can be one reason why religion becomes boring – and that is the death of motivation!

The good news – the gospel – is of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Again, something we lose sight of at our peril. Jesus is not only God’s gift, through whom we can see the invisible God, and understand what the incomprehensible Deity is like. Jesus is also the way we are brought back to God, forgiven and freed. Mark doesn’t waste time or paper – this is the first line of his gospel!

So, how does it start? With an Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, and his announcement of a messenger to prepare the way. As Mark will make clear, the whole Old Testament has been unfolding God’s plan, and preparing the way for the coming Messiah, the great King. As we shall discover, the King was rather different to what was expected, and so preparation was needed. The prophecies of Isaiah’s book play a part (they feature in Carol Service readings!), not least by creating hope and expectation – an important element.

Then there is John the Baptist. verse 4. Mark understands him to be the messenger Isaiah was talking about, and he comments on his dress and prophetic style. Prophecy had died some hundreds of years before, but its sudden rebirth is a sign of something happening. John calls people to repentance, as part of making ready for his successor. The message is for rich and poor, religious and secularised, and is uncompromising and straightforward: You need to be forgiven, and before my successor comes!

There’s a buzz about all of this. Excitement, urgency, something more than personal preparation. Now is the time to face up to things we have been avoiding. Now we can sort out and put right. Now we can get ourselves right with God, other people and ourselves. It had better be now, because something new is coming which will take our time, effort and attention, but needs us to be ready.

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. . . .

Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

A dark time

It’s a dark time.  Clouds are gathering and optimism in short supply.  As Jesus goes to Galilee, (Matthew 4:12-23) John the Baptist has been silenced, thrown into prison.  But there is prophecy of hope from as far back as Isaiah, and Jesus’ proclamation seems to be announcing something good.

Meanwhile, he is not going to work on his own.  First he calls Simon and Andrew, and then quickly also James and John.  It is not immediately clear how well they know Jesus, nor what they are letting themselves in for.  It seems to be enough that for the moment they will leave normal routine to follow and learn, taking instruction.  There is no contract.  This “discipleship” will take time to work out, but it is worth starting.

We know a little more of how things developed.  These four, with others, stayed as Jesus taught and healed.  Perhaps at first they sat and listened, but no doubt they began to help.  Was it organising those who wanted a private word first? or the practicalities of shopping for food or finding a bed for the night?  How long before they started to re-tell some of the favourite stories, to help people understand what Jesus was talking about?

We know that later, they were sent out in pairs. (Matthew 10:1-15)  Told, not just to preach, but to heal and exorcise people as well!  However they felt at first, they came back celebrating – and went on to learn some more.  There were all sorts of disciples, not just 12 men.  Luke tells us of 72 (Luke 10:1-20), and also speaks of how the women contributed to Jesus ministry too (Luke 8:1-3).  After the resurrection, the Acts of the Apostles explains how it was disciples who spread the message of Jesus.

They didn’t always get it right.  The whole of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians show an enthusiastic, but sometimes mistaken, church.  Early on (todays reading is from 1 Corinthians 1:10-18) we hear of dangerous divisions into groups and cliques.  Paul is clear that unity is important, and that Jesus is the leader, his death on the cross the vital answer to the need of messed up humans.

Disciples don’t become perfect – at least, not until they get to heaven.  But they do understand their need to learn.  Following Jesus goes on.  We learn more than stories to tell.  We become who we are meant to be, and being together is part of the process.  Some things have to go – competition, useless argument.  Some things come to show their value – Jesus, his choice of dying to serve, a future which brings light in the gloom.  Discipleship is still something to value, and keep doing.

Prophets (Advent 2a)

Why is it all about Jesus? – we can imagine others asking, perhaps wonder ourselves.  Other faiths and philosophies have various teachers and leaders, but Christianity is, CHRISTianity.  It centres there, reflects in different languages and cultures but always on the teaching, personality and actions of one man.  What points so strongly there?

Christians might want to refer to the New Testament, to the way the gospels are all about Jesus, and the other writings also.  I wonder, though, if we don’t miss part of the point.  Jesus didn’t just “happen”, he wasn’t “discovered” without warning.  In fact, human history is littered with pointers and hints.  Perhaps most important among them are the prophets.

Who? you might ask.  Start with Moses, who speaks for God to an unlikely group of enslaved people, leads them, and gives them God’s instructions for being a people to let the world know about God.  Go on to Elijah, again uncompromisingly for God when compromise and corruption was the fashion of the day.  Then there is Elisha, and Isaiah, whose promises of a coming King feature in every carol service.  Hosea and Amos, Haggai and Zechariah, many more – all spoke for God, sometimes of the future planned, sometimes of the heavenly view on what was happening around them.  All the prophets are different – different people (there are women as well as men), different times – but they all prepared the way, and many left promises to be remembered and recognised later as clues to authenticity.

So, as we run up to Christmas, we read Isaiah 11:1-10, looking to the promise of a coming King whose rule will be everything we hope for.  We read Romans 15:4-13, of the Old Testament encouragement and guidance to recognise and follow the one who was promised and has now arrived, and we read Matthew 3:1-12, of a new prophet after a long gap.  John the Baptist is just like Elijah, and he appears (as Malachi had foretold) to prepare and warn everyone to be ready for Jesus, who has not yet begun his ministry.

The prophets are important, for their pointing the way and preparing.  They don’t want the spotlight for themselves, but for God who is active, caring, and understands exactly what is happening.